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Friday, March 2, 2001

Hawaii State Seal

Bill to ban
fireworks may
get snuffed

The House has yet to back a
total ban, but permits for sparklers
and jail time for aerials
stand a chance

By Crystal Kua

Three fireworks bills, including Gov. Ben Cayetano's proposal to ban fireworks on Oahu, sizzled at a hearing before two Senate committees yesterday.

But the measures, which passed out of the committees, could fizzle once they get to the state House, said Sen. Cal Kawamoto, chairman of the Transportation, Military Affairs and Government Operations Committee.

Legislature Kawamoto (D, Waipahu) said the House could prevent the bills from getting a hearing. The House has not supported an outright fireworks ban in the past.

But Kawamoto said that while he does not hold out much hope for the ban, he hopes the other two bills will be heard.

Kawamoto said a permit process to buy up to 5,000 firecrackers and strengthened penalties related to illegal aerial fireworks is working and that the law passed last year just needs a little tinkering.

One bill heard yesterday would prohibit the purchase, possession and use of fireworks in counties with populations over 500,000. Oahu is the only county that fits that criterion.

The governor is proposing a ban on Oahu because, he said, the density in urban Honolulu makes fireworks dangerous.

"Smoke and hazards generated by fireworks use continue to be a threat to the health and safety of Hawaii's people," said state Deputy Health Director Gary Gill, who testified on behalf of the Health Department in support of the bill.

Gill said air monitors set up in Pearl City showed that the volume of smoke this past New Year's Eve was higher than during the "great millennium debacle" of the previous year.

Gill pointed to the death of a Palolo woman in a New Year's Eve house fire caused by illegal aerial fireworks as an example of how issues related to fireworks go beyond the respiratory problems.

But Dick Botti, who represents fireworks wholesalers and retailers, said fatalities of the last couple of New Year celebrations were associated with illegal aerial fireworks. Greater enforcement of aerial fireworks laws is needed, he said.

Botti also opposes a second bill that would require a permit to buy items such as sparklers and fountains, which now can be purchased without a permit. Botti said that requirement will destroy the legal fireworks industry in Hawaii.

"This is a quasi-total ban," he said.

Kawamoto said the Fire Department asked that the bill include the addition of permits for fireworks other than firecrackers.

The bill would also establish a mandatory two-year prison term for anyone convicted of violating the aerial fireworks laws.

Kawamoto said that while the violation will remain a Class C felony, the mandatory term was added after he learned that a Pearl City man discovered with a cache of illegal aerial fireworks this past year will probably not receive any prison time.

The third bill would reinstate a monthly reporting requirement for explosives dealers.

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